Music For The Cancer Life


Music therapy isn't the same for everyone, so find some joy in the music of your real-life and maybe even push away a moody cancer funk.

I remember when my middle daughter was a baby - she was not an "easy" baby - and I'd drive around sometimes for hours just to try to get her to fall asleep. Once, or more precisely "if", she did, I would either just sit in the car quietly reading or sleeping until she woke or I'd risk bringing her into the house, where I'd put her in the crib, car seat and all.

It was during this time that I got a lot of advice from doctors, family, friends, magazines and pretty much every mother or grandmother whose path I crossed that music would soothe this savage beast. Not just any music, though. Classical music.

I still smile when I think about that advice. Classical music was the one surefire way to enrage this baby.

Music is often put forth as a complementary therapy for people with cancer. In the same way I tested out classical music on my daughter, I've tried to get into the calming "cancer music", like the flutes, the music my qi gong instructor puts on at the start of each class. I'm just not soothed by the tones though. I can appreciate the beauty of this music, and classical recordings don't send me into a fit the way it did that little baby in her car seat. Still, for me, music therapy has to sound a little different.

Starting with the early days of my diagnosis, I've actually made good use of my own music-as-therapy. At chemotherapy appointments, putting on my headphones and hitting play on my phone are the first things I do once those drugs are hooked up to the IV pole. It's not dulcet tones though. What I'm listening to is often whatever that same daughter has been playing in the car. It's loud, it's feminist, it's danceable and it has the power to pull me out of a moody funk.

It reminds me of the days when my daughters enthusiastically practiced their songs for Junior High plays, of the fun I've had at small concerts with them and the long days at huge music events in Chicago, where I am certifiably in the old-lady category.

It's music therapy for my real life.

Sometimes it's easy to forget that what people recommend when you're getting cancer treatment may simultaneously not work for you and work great with slight modifications. For me, music therapy falls into that category.

I'm probably never going to be calmed by listening to an Indian flute recording, but with different music, I can wind up in the same place. Sure, I get there with a bit more volume and a lot more movement (and some out-of-tune singing) but this is definitely a situation where it's the destination that matters and not the how-you-get-there.

Take a moment today to think about the exuberance for life that you respond to in your favorite music and let that be a bit of complementary therapy for your heart and soul. Sing it out loud or play it quietly to find the joy we all deserve.

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